SAN FRANCISCO — Can a series victory leave you feeling more concerned about a team than you were when it started?
The Giants tested that possibility for 27 innings this week against the rebuilding Marlins, taking two of three in a series that contained way too much drama, an unnecessary beanball war with an inferior opponent, self-inflicted damage on and off the field, and one last attempt at blowing a lead.
When it was over, though, there was a handshake line, and there was confidence. First baseman Brandon Belt, who was in the middle of many of the good things the Giants did in a 6-5 win, said he still believes this team has an “it factor.”
“It seems like we have that, in my perspective,” he said. “A lot of it has to do with unsung heroes.”
We will get to them in a moment, but first … “it factor”?
“We didn’t have the ‘it factor’ last year, just so you know,” Belt said, smiling. “For frame of reference.”
These Giants may yet have a run in them. Perhaps they’ll get Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto back and take off, and we’ll all look back on this as a strange three-day set with a team the for whatever reason has the Giants’ number. If they do reach any sort of glory, it will be because they survived with newfound depth. As Belt said, there are unsung heroes here.
--- Derek Holland: After his last start in Los Angeles, Holland chastised himself for not going deeper into the game. He did so again Wednesday, despite pitching into the seventh. Holland was charged with three earned in six-plus. Forget the ERA; he has been a reliable presence for a rotation mostly lacking them.
“I’ve got to keep continuing to use this moomentum,” he said. “I feel I’m progressing.”
--- Holland was on deck when Gorkys Hernandez won a lengthy battle with Jose Ureña, the hard-throwing righty who was so tough on the Giants until a five-run sixth. Hernandez is playing through a painful rib bruise that he suffered in Washington D.C. It flares up on certain swings, and he can’t hide his grimace at times. But that didn’t stop him from taking Ureña’s 14th pitch of the at-bat into right field for a two-run single that put the Giants up 5-1.
“I just kept yelling at him, ‘Keep going, baby! Let’s go!,’” Holland said.
The Giants have roster issues in the outfield that they’ll need to come to grips to at some point. Perhaps they would have made a move had they dropped Wednesday’s game. But Hernandez is safe as the center fielder. The hit raised his average to .285, and it would be needed.
“That was the key in the game,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “He really grinded out that at-bat, 14 pitches, and just came through with a huge hit there.”
--- Ty Blach was the opening day starter. Here is his last week: 6 2/3 innings of relief dominance in a 16-inning win last Thursday; a clean sixth inning in a win last night; a perfect eighth inning to hold a three-run lead Wednesday. Yes, Blach was the setup man for the day, and he excelled. He always seems to when Bochy throws him a new role.
“He’s always stepping up,” Holland said. “That’s the huge thing he needs to get credit for.”
Holland noted that Blach never complains when moved around. He just does his job. On Monday night, after the blown win, Blach ran laps around the outfield at 10:30 p.m., getting his conditioning in. Two days later, he got the ball to Sam Dyson.
--- Dyson didn’t end the game with the ball in his right hand. He was pulled after giving up two runs — Hernandez didn’t help by losing a ball in the sun — and putting two more on. So, Reyes Moronta entered and got a strikeout for his first career save. Moronta, a 25-year-old rookie, has a 1.91 ERA and 1.09 WHIP. He has been one of the more underrated players for a team that's still in the NL West race.
“You’re forced at that point to make a move,” Bochy said. “Reyes has done some closing in the minor leagues and he’s got the equipment to do it.”
Perhaps, before long, Moronta will be closing up here. It’s a possibility that seemed far-fetched when the Giants returned home, but then Hunter Strickland tried to put his fist through a door. A lot happened to the Giants this week, but when the series was over, Moronta was pumping his fist and the rest were joining him to shake hands.